Originally Posted by Rats Off To Ya
At any point does the article justify the comparison to Uber, et al? Seems like a ridiculous stretch, and I don't want to click Polygon's Hot Take Of The Day to find out.
I'd say their section on the treatment of Steam Workshop contributors does, yes:
Back in 2011, Good Guy Valve tore up the playbook again, showing us once and for all that they weren't an uncaring corporation — in fact they wanted nothing more than to open up their Steam Workshop and let us play around in their magical worlds of Dota 2, Team Fortress 2 and, later, Counter-Strike GO.
And you can earn real money from it, they told us! Buy these items, and the 3D artists who made them will get 25 percent of the profits. We're all in this together!
Talented 3D artists surged out of the woodwork, and the airwaves were saturated with feel-good stories of creators making very decent, livable wages off the sales of Demoman swords, machine gun skins and wacky couriers.
Valve themselves eagerly trumpeted that they had paid more than $57 million to Steam Workshop creators over four years — an enormously impressive figure until you realize that it's only 25 percent of the sale price, which means Valve just made $171 million profit from ... setting up an online form where you can submit finished 3D models.
As far as Valve is concerned, it's a fantastic arrangement: You do all the hard work for free, knowing that you might never be paid, but hoping you will at some point. This is called “speculative work” in the industry and it's hugely frowned upon as exploitative and unjust.
Valve sells your work to other people, and they take the overwhelming majority of the money from each transaction. Everyone's a winner ... but Valve, whose running costs for the store are essentially zero, and who have just tricked you into joining their content farm, is the biggest winner. You’re putting up your time and effort, and those have a very real cost for you. Valve has lost nothing other than the sunk cost of the employee time spent maintaining the store, while gaining a lot of revenue.
The agreement itself states that you have no specific right to any payment, outside of the ability to upload the item.
“Except where otherwise provided in App-Specific Terms, you agree that Valve’s consideration of your Workshop Contribution is your full compensation, and you are not entitled to any other rights or compensation in connection with the rights granted to Valve and to other Subscribers,” the agreement states. The specific Workshop agreement also forces you to keep the sales data itself confidential. Want to tell someone how well your items are selling? Too bad.
“It's impossible for artists to live on the workshop alone anymore, something which Valve used to repeatedly brag about,” explained one prominent Workshop artist to me in an interview for this piece. Valve has just recently slashed royalties for Dota 2 creators to almost nothing, right on the eve of the next massive International tournament. According to this artist’s estimate, their share has gone down from 25 percent to more like to five percent or seven percent, and communication from Valve has been unclear or flat-out non-existent.